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Computer shop girls: An ethnographic study of gendered positionings in a vocational high school

Leslie A Shaw, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation, based on an ethnographic study, seeks to identify and understand the gendered subject positionings of six working class girls enrolled in the Computer Shop of a rural vocational high school in the Northeastern United States. Since local law and Federal law clearly state that no person can be discriminated against in either schooling or employment, a continued lack of gender balance within the trades is puzzling to parents, educators, and researchers. This study contributes to a paucity of research focused upon gender and vocational education. Theoretical perspectives of feminist poststructuralism informed the collection, analysis, and reporting of data for this study. Data for this study included structured ethnographic interviews, feminist poststructuralist analysis of salient texts, and four school terms of participant observation. Analysis of the interrelatedness of these discrete strands of data yielded multiple, often contradictory, layers of gendered subject positionings. Discourses related to gendered positionings in personal relationships and schooling/career were fundamental. Feminine discourses related to nurturing were primary in analyzed texts. In the girls' lives, caring for others competed with schooling. Most of the girls worked long hours in minimum wage jobs and skipped school to meet the needs of boyfriends and children. For some of the girls, pervasive discourses of beauty meant a battle with anorexia. Discourses of heterosexual romance imbued the girls' textual preferences. In ways befitting characters in the soap operas, books, and films they loved, the girls commonly jeopardized their safety to find and keep boyfriends. At school, the girls navigated an environment that privileged boys and men through gendered shop selections, sexist texts, and male authority. Excessive regulatory practices contributed to three of the girls not graduating with her class. Understanding the multiple subjectivities of adolescent girls challenges educators and researchers to move beyond simplistic solutions in equity issues. Through multi-layered research, the impacts and synergy of gendered discourses become visible, and thus subject to interruption.

Subject Area

Literacy|Reading instruction|Vocational education|Womens studies|Educational sociology

Recommended Citation

Shaw, Leslie A, "Computer shop girls: An ethnographic study of gendered positionings in a vocational high school" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9909219.